Governor Newsom’s proposed budget includes more than $85 million to train health care workers—a reflection of the state’s anticipated need to fill over 107,000 new health care jobs every year between 2016 and 2026. This projected increase is due to a growing and aging population, as well as greater access to care under the Affordable Care Act. California’s immigrant population will be an important source of workers in this sector.
In California, nearly one in three health care workers is foreign born, compared to one in six nationwide. This is partly because of the high share of immigrants among California’s working-age population. While immigrants make up about a quarter of all Californians, they are almost a third of working-age Californians—with even higher shares of immigrants among those with less than a high school diploma (49%) or those holding a graduate or professional degree (36%).
Immigrants also make up a large proportion of California workers in high-demand health care occupations, such as primary care providers (who are particularly needed in rural areas), nurses, and health aides. In 2017, 36% of the state’s physicians and 35% of registered nurses were foreign born. Forty-two percent of California’s nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides were foreign born.
As California considers how to train people for these jobs, programs that account for the diversity of immigrants’ educational backgrounds will be important. Many highly skilled immigrant health workers were age 25 or older when they arrived in the country, suggesting that they may have had at least some training abroad. To help foreign-trained health professionals, some California universities already have programs to guide them through the steps necessary to enter the state’s health workforce. Training programs for support roles in health that require less than a four-year college degree are another opportunity that could encourage lower-skilled immigrants to enter the health sector.
Immigrants can also benefit the health workforce in other ways. For example, health care workers who speak languages other than English, as many immigrant workers do, can be a resource for low-income patients facing linguistic barriers to health care access. In the coming years, meeting California’s health care workforce needs will require multiple strategies—but engaging the state’s immigrant population can be a part of the solution.